Phuket Vegetarian Festival – 2016 – Phuket, Thailand
When: Oct 1st thru Oct 9th
Where: Phuket Island
This may be the most exciting, vibrant, and yes potentially dangerous festival I’ve attended during my time in Thailand. In order to send the right message to the locals and keep yourself out of harms way, consider the following…
Don’t Forget to…
1) …wear white! White is symbolic for the entire vegetarian festival, by wearing white it shows respect for the local customs and it’ll be greatly appreciated. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack anything white, there will be plenty of shops selling white garments, the t-shirts last year sold for about 150bt ($4) each.
2) …wear protection for your eyes and ears! You’ll see these distinctive little red firecrackers everywhere, though they are relatively harmless, what they lack in firepower, they more than makeup for in pop! Each are incredibly loud, never mind when hundreds are strung together. Save your hearing and wear earplugs. But don’t stop there, wear safety glasses as well. Once again, though relatively harmless, you wouldn’t want one to blowup in your face. Trust me, won’t see it coming. This is such a fun part of the vegetarian festival experience, so be prepared, don’t let a dumb accident get in the way of a good time.
3) …bring a N95 mask! Bring a few of them, you’ll need them all. Those little red firecrackers don’t just pack a loud pop, they also create an incredible amount of smoke. I took in so much smoke that when it came time to leave Phuket, I left with a heavy-duty case of bronchitis. I should have known better, considering that I’m susceptible to respiratory infections. Even if you think you can handle it, don’t take the smoke lightly, take care of yourself. Your lungs will love you for it!
Back Ground for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The Phuket Vegetarian (Nine Emperor Gods) Festival is a migrant festival with renewal and purification powers, that inherits from the past, brings to the present and passes on to the future with the participation of the people.
Almost 200 years ago in 1825, The Phuket Vegetarian Festival, known locally as Jia Chai, was born. What was once the main town on the island (Ta Reua in Talang District) was moved to accommodate the influx of Chinese tin miners in Get-Hoe of Kathu District. Kathu was still a jungle at the time of the move and was harsh environment for travelers. Fever was rampant among the population and it was during this time when a traveling opera company from China visited.
It wasn’t long before the whole company was stricken with fever and their response was to combat it with a vegetarian diet in an attempt to honor two of the emperor gods, Yok Ong Sone Teh and Kiew Ong Tai Teh. The opera troupe returned to health soon after adopting this vegetarian diet. This discovery was of great interest to the people of Kathu, but they wanted to know why? The one thing they could point to with confidence was the ritual vegetarianism along with its attendant ceremonies. It didn’t take long for the people to adopted this faith heart and soul. Thus began what we call today the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Today it starts on the first evening of the ninth lunar month and continues through the ninth evening aiming to bring good luck to all in attendance.
As time passed one of the witnesses of the festival returned home to Kansai, China. This person invited two scared men to Kathu, Hiao Ho-le and Lian Tui to participate in the ceremonies. These two men had the status of gods. On the seventh night of the ninth month he returned to Phuket. When the people heard of his return, they gathered and in procession headed to Bang Niao Pier, where they were to greet and provide safe return of the gods known as Kathu and Hiao Ho-le. This is where the processions originated and why they factor in so greatly in todays festival.
One day before the vegetarian festival begins, each temple raises a great pole and these poles known as Go Teng poles. The gods are invited to descend from the heavens through these great poles. Come midnight each pole is adorned with nine lanterns, inviting the gods to descend and two of which are asked to preside over the ceremonies; Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae. This is the event that signals the opening of the vegetarian festival.
Ceremonies are a plenty during the nine days and nights of the vegetarian festival. One of the highlights is the invocation of two gods, Lam Tao (representing the living) and Pak Tao (represents the dead). During these processions expect to see images of the gods; and witness feats of the Ma Song (also known as middlemen) such as bathing in hot oil, fire-walking and bladed ladder climbing. On the last day of the vegetarian festival, each temple will take part in merit making ceremonies, this is known as sadoh kroh. Here, is where the gods are released and free to return to the heavens, followed by a fireworks display closing the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
Throughout the vegetarian festival the Ma Song act as vessels for the gods to enter. The Ma Song powers of a supernatural nature and inflict self-tortures to shift evil from the individual onto themselves and doing so this brings the community good luck. The Ma Song can be divided into two distinct groups; one is of those who have had an intimation of impending doom and want to extend their lives; and the second are of those who have been specially chosen by the gods for their impeccable moral qualities..
Noise is a key element of every ceremony from the festivals beginning to end as it is the driving force to rid the town of evil spirits. Fireworks and drums the preferred noise makers and they are truly loud. Evil spirits be gone!
Adhering to a strict vegetarian diet varies from participant to participant but for not less than three days. This practice is to exhibit willpower which shows strength of mind and body. Participants must also refrain from all vice, including the slaughter and consumption of animal flesh. Good hygiene, brightness and inner peace are values indicative of this festival.
Purification and Vegetarianism:
The vegetarian festival is about purifying the people as well as the spaces they inhabit together, this is the principal theme behind the whole belief system at this time of year.
The wearing of white garments and fasting to a strict form of vegetarianism (Je or Je Chai or Chai) is symbolic of self-purification.
Fasting = Chiak Chai
Abstain from consuming foods with powerful or raw smells, like tobacco, Chinese chives, garlic and “lak khiao” (similar to garlic) in order to prevent the five essences of the body (Fire, Water, Earth, Wood an Metal) from being harmed. This is a test of every individuals power of self-control and a penance to be paid in order to attain a long life.
Chanting and Meditation = Je Sian
These are also disciplines performed to help wash the mind and body of all desire.
10 Steps to Attain Supernatural Powers during the Vegetarian Festival:
- Abstain from killing living things (Abstain from eating meat products).
- Abstain from stealing.
- Abstain from telling lies.
- Abstain from drinking alcohol.
- Abstain from adultery.
- Abstain from gambling.
7. Abstain from wearing jewelry and leather goods.
- Wearing white attire is preferable during the festival.
- Mourner, women in menstruation and pregnancy should avoid participating in any kind of rituals.
- Kitchen utensils and containers should be kept solely for the festival.
(updated as of Sept. 29, 2016)
***NOTE: The below information was posted prior to receiving the full schedule of events for 2016. So for this years full schedule use the above link and disregard the information below.
The following ceremonies will be held at Jui Tui Tao Co Keng Temple
A note about this years, 2016 schedule: At the moment, I could only locate a daily schedule for the Jui Tui Tao Co Keng Shrine. Though many more shrines are sure to be involved, this is all I was given by Phukets Office of Tourism for 2016. If and when I get more information regarding activities at other shrine, I will pass it along to you, my readers.
7:00am – Cleaning a temple together
8:00pm – Pang Ear ceremony
Friday, September 30th
5.09pm – Co Deng pillar Lifting ceremony
11.09pm – Dong Tong Hong Tae ceremony
Saturday, October 1st
6:00pm – Hang Sor
Sunday, October 2nd
9:00am – Pai Lao Yai Eill
Monday, October 3rd
3:00pm – Ho Tui and Ah Tek Kiem ceremony
8.45pm – Inviting Lum Tao god ceremony
Tuesday, October 4th
9:00am – Pai Lao Yai Eill ceremony
Wednesday, October 5th
Thursday, October 6th
9:00am – Pai Lao Yai Eill ceremony
3:00pm – Ho Gui ceremony
6:00pm – Hang Sor
8:00pm – Koy Hui ceremony
Friday, October 7th
8.09am – Hui Keng and Ear Hiew Hoi ceremony
9:00pm – Pai Shit Share
Saturday, October 8th
9:00am – Pai Lao Ai Eill ceremony
8:00pm – Koy Harn ceremony
Sunday, October 9th
3:00pm – Ho Kui ceremony
6:00pm – Hang Sor
11:00pm – Sarn Yok Tong Hong Tae ceremony
11.45pm – Sarn Kiew Tong Tai Tae ceremony
Monday, October 10th
5:00pm – Dong Sao Ko Teng ceremony
Ho Kui and Chill Ear ceremony
Highly recommended by the organizers: “Please, dress in white costume to preserve this Phuket tradition”
Please Note: The Phuket Vegetarian Festival for 2017 will be held on the following dates; Oct 20-28.
List of Shrines likely to be invovled for 2016;
1-SAPAM SHRINE – Phuket Town
2-LIM HU TAI SU SHRINE (SAMKONG)
3-BAN THA RUE SHRINE – Phuket Town
4-BANG LIAO SHRINE – Phuket Town
5-CHERNG THALAY SHRINE – Manik Village
6-JUI TUI SHRINE – Phuket Town
7-KATHU SHRINE – Mu Ban Kathu Thani
8-YOK KE KENG SHRINE – Phuket town
9-SUI BOON TONG SHRINE – Phuket Town
10-SAPAM SHRINE – Phuket Town